David Levy summed up the new NCAA Tournament viewing experience perfectly.
“The viewer becomes the producer,” said Levy, the president of Sales, Distribution and Sports, Turner Broadcasting System Inc.
Two weeks ago, I was sitting in Levy’s corner office in the Time Warner Building overlooking Columbus Circle in midtown Manhattan talking about the 2011 tournament. It was impossible to contain his enthusiasm. And who would want to?
If you are at home watching the tournament, you will no longer have to agonize over whether CBS will leave the game you want to see for a game you don’t care about. Or whether CBS will mistime a cut-in to a game going down to the wire. Or whether CBS will delay going to the start of the game your favorite team is playing so it can show five minutes of advertising.
All 67 games in the expanded, 68-team tournament are going to be televised live on CBS, TNT, TBS or truTV. Each game will have graphics that show updated scores and time remaining. So, if you are watching CBS and a one-point game on TBS is in the final seconds, just point your remote and click.
It will be like the March Madness on Demand (MMOD) that has been available on computers for a few years, but without the annoyances, including “buffering” delays. Point, click, watch.
“I don’t think the consumer has ever had anything like this,” Levy said.
No question. If you love the tournament — and is there anybody who does not love the tournament? — you finally have what you want. Control.
Turner and CBS signed a $10.8 billion, 14-year contract with the NCAA in April.
“We have not looked back at the contract,” Levy said. “Everything’s good.”
The networks are not out pursuing advertisers.
“Everything is already sold out,” Levy said.
There was never a lot of pregame and postgame on CBS. That will change with Turner. And you also will get Chuck.
Yes, Charles Barkley and the NBA TNT crew will be a key part of the coverage.
“Charles typically wouldn’t fit CBS’ brand,” Levy said.
No, he would not. So, we will get Chuck delivering his unique brand of studio analysis during the tournament. Who doesn’t want that?
There will be studio teams in New York and Atlanta. We will get Kenny Smith and Ernie Johnson, in addition to the regular CBS voices that include the wonderful zaniness of Gus Johnson. TNT’s Marv Albert will be back calling the NCAA for the first time since the 1980s.
It will sometimes get chaotic as the tournament is supposed to be, but it will be organized chaos.
So, who gets what games?
“Once the bracket comes out, it will be about what’s best for the NCAA Tournament,” Levy said.
The Final Four crew, which has been expanded from CBS’ Jim Nantz and Clark Kellogg to include Turner’s Steve Kerr, also will be in Dayton on Tuesday, March 15 for the opening doubleheader of the “First Four.”
Levy is convinced the overall audience will grow across the four channels, pointing out that his network attracts more than just sports fans, that it has “Seinfeld,” “Friends” and “The Closer.”
Turner is huge into digital platforms and manages several significant sports websites. The network got into the baseball playoffs in the last few years. It has, of course, been a major player in the NBA for decades. Now, it is all in for the three-week American rite of spring that is the NCAA Tournament.
THE DUKE FACTOR
It is rare that an NCAA-caliber team can play a game in late February that has very little downside. That is Temple at Duke Wednesday night.
The Owls are not expected to win. In fact, they are not expected to come close. So, as long as they don’t get completely crushed, this does nothing but help them.
If they play well, the selection committee will notice. Just playing the game helps their schedule strength. If they win, it might be the best road win of the season by any NCAA-caliber team. And that would definitely improve their seed.
Perhaps most important, playing at Duke is an experience that can’t be duplicated. As March arrives, coaches don’t like surprises. They want their team ready for anything. After this, Temple should be ready. The Owls certainly won’t see a crowd like this anywhere next month.
Duke freshman point guard Kyrie Irving (toe injury) is almost certainly not coming back this season. He proved in his eight games that he is NBA-ready so his Duke career may consist of fewer than 10 unforgettable games. If you like the game, you really needed to see Irving in March and, possibly, April.
Still, it is not like the No. 1 Blue Devils are without talent. Nolan Smith is making a run at national player of the year. Kyle Singler was the Most Outstanding Player at the 2010 Final Four. They are still deep, multidimensional and coached by Mike Krzyzewski, who is closing fast on the Division I wins record.
Duke is a very tough opponent anywhere. It is just about unbeatable at Cameron Indoor Stadium, one of the great home-venue advantages in sports. Unless you have been there, you can’t imagine the noise. Even though the court is the normal dimension, it must seem smaller, almost claustrophobic, to visitors when Duke is making a run. And Duke is always making a run.
Penn State senior Talor Battle is three assists from becoming the first player in Big Ten history with 2,000 points, 500 rebounds and 500 assists. In fact, he would become just the 10th player the last 40 years with that combination. The others: Danny Ainge (BYU), Speedy Claxton (Hofstra), Johnny Dawkins (Duke), Danny Ferry (Duke), Ron Lee (Oregon), Jameer Nelson (Saint Joseph’s), Tim Smith (East Tennessee), Chris Thomas (Notre Dame) and Grevis Vasquez (Maryland).
Records from back in the day are spotty, but there is no question the great Oscar Robertson (Cincinnati) would be on the list. In just 88 games over three seasons, the Big O scored 2,973 points and had 1,338 rebounds. His assists were only kept for his final two seasons and not for 1957-58. He had 425.
THIS AND THAT
—The 2011 Hoop Group Classic Thanksgiving weekend at the Palestra is going to include Penn, La Salle and Pittsburgh. The entire field and format for games has not been finalized, but James Madison is another team that will be in town.
—Each NCAA Tournament Selection Committee member has opinions on what an at-large team looks like. There are no hard and fast rules. However, in talking to committee members through the years, it is pretty clear that road wins are really valued. The reason should be fairly obvious. There are no tournament games at home.
During the last five seasons, the teams with the best road winning percentages are, in order, Kansas, North Carolina, Pittsburgh, Villanova, Duke, Louisville, UCLA, Wisconsin, Syracuse and Georgetown. You will notice the last three national champions in that group.
—If you could buy a young backcourt for the future, now would be the time to buy Michigan. Sophomore point guard Darius Morris and freshman shooting guard Tim Hardaway Jr. (yes, the son of) have improved tremendously during the season and appear on the way to being really good in the future. The pair shot 17-for-26 and had 50 points against Iowa on Saturday. Hardaway had 30.
—Barring a miracle run to an Atlantic 10 Tournament championship by La Salle or Saint Joseph’s (if the Hawks actually make the tournament), or a roll by Drexel through the minefield that is the Colonial Tournament or an almost impossible run to the Ivy title by Penn, Temple and Villanova are once again going to be the only city reps in the NCAA.
—So, how will each team do? Well, there is the matter of the matchups. There is also the matter of health and current form. Temple’s Micheal Eric is gone for the season. Scootie Randall is out at the moment. I like Temple’s current form. Don’t like the injury issues. Don’t like Villanova’s current form.
—Well, the 64-team version of the tournament starts three weeks from Thursday after four teams are eliminated in the “First Four.” The Owls and Wildcats will be there.
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